LIMPOPO

Across the (swept away) bridge, there is a school

By Lucas Ledwaba 9 March 2021

Akhonaho Netshituni heads home after crossing the Mufongodi river after classes at Sane Primary school. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

Recent floods swept away a pedestrian bridge in a rural Limpopo village leaving learners and residents stranded.

Azwindini Rendani walks in slow measured steps in the knee-high waters of the fast-flowing Mufongodi river. She calls out to someone on the other side of the river to ask whether the children are already on their way.

Education assistant Zwivhuya Ramathavhana helps to carry children across the makeshift bridge across the Mufongodi river. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

Satisfied, she walks back across the river to a point where villagers have chopped off a big tree branch to create a makeshift pedestrian across the river. A wooden pedestrian bridge built by the Makhado local municipality was washed away by the raging river in recent floods. 

Since then the Natal section of the remote village of Sane, about 100km northeast of Makhado has been cut off from the rest of the area and the world. There is no other bridge across the river, which is about 50m wide in parts. 

Matric student Tondani Nengwekhulu walks home after crossing the Mufongodi river.
(Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

There is no school, clinic, shop or any other amenities in the Natal section. As a result, residents have no other choice than to cross the river to access services in the main village. The village is pressed between high, imposing mountains to the north and the river to the south. The school is located about 800m from the riverbank on the southern side.

Older learners cross the Mufongodi river using a makeshift bridge fashioned from a tree branch. They cross in a group to ensure safety. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

Every morning since the bridge collapsed, women accompany their children — who are enrolled at the Sane Primary school — to the river to help them cross. Then in the afternoon, concerned mothers wait at the crossing point to ensure the little ones make it safely across.

Avhurengwi Khalushi helps her nephew to cross the Mufongodi river after classes at the Sena primary school in Limpopo. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

At 2pm when the siren at the school sounds, Rendani drops all her chores and rushes to the river bank to meet her son who is in grade R.

Together with other parents, they cross to the other side of the river. Then once there, they take turns carrying the children on their backs. They then hold onto a steel wire tied to a tree trunk still standing on the bank. Then they carefully shuffle over the trunk lying over the raging water below.

Moms help to carry their young children across the Mufongodi river. A pedestrian bridge which was built earlier this year was swept away by the flooded river last month. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

Although this crossing on the branch is just a little under 10 metres in length, it is nevertheless a frightening experience with the river raging powerfully below. A slip or wrong step could have dire results, especially for the children.

The little ones hold on tightly to their elders during the crossing. 

Moms help to carry their young children across the Mufongodi river. A pedestrian bridge which was built earlier this year was swept away by the flooded river last month. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

“He is scared. We are also scared because this is dangerous,” says Rendani about her five-year old.

The crossing, using the tree branch, is not the end of it. After successfully crossing this stretch they now take off their shoes and socks, fold their pants and hold on tight to their bags to walk through shallower waters that are knee-deep for most adults but deep enough to reach a child’s chin.

“The water is too cold in the morning,” says teacher’s assistant at the school Zwivhuya Ramathavhana.

The pedestrian bridge which was built less than a month earlier was washed away by floods – leaving the community of Natal section of the Sane village stranded. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

She walks with the young ones to the river from school when the bell rings. She waits under a tree until all the small ones whose parents aren’t present are gathered. She makes several trips across the makeshift crossing carrying them one by one on her back. 

“I’m just assisting the younger ones to ensure they cross safely. The children are scared and this affects their concentration in school,” she says.

A boy clutches to an apple as he joins others to cross the Mufongodi river after school at Sane primary school. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

Rendani says her son cries all the time when it’s time for school, citing the exercise of crossing the river as the source of his tears.

The Makhado local municipality has promised to build a new bridge which is set to be completed in six months. This would also depend on weather conditions. Workmen were already in the village this week preparing to start construction. 

But for now, the precarious crossing across the Mufongodi continues for the children. The same danger awaits the elderly on their way to the clinic or pension pay point. Groceries are carried head-high during the crossing and last month, the body of an elderly citizen — who had died after struggling to cross the river to get health care — had to be driven across the river on a tractor-trailer. DM/MCMukurukuru Media

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      • E-toll ‘money’ is not paid by the users but now largely comes from tax money that could address key infrastructure needs in communities who are not able to pay. I rest.

  • 6 Months to construct a little bridge! A clear indication of the governments priorities. On the other hand it’s touching yet very heartbreaking to see what these poor children and parents have to endure to try and secure some form of education for their children. I salute them. They deserve better.

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